The island is served by Svalbard airport, which lies in the ‘capital’, Longyearbyen. The best way to get around and see its unique arctic wildlife is by boat in summer, and there is plenty of opportunity to do so with adventure sailing and expedition cruises available. With just 29 miles of road, in summer ships are the best way to explore and in winter snow mobiles and dog sledding are used to get around.
History and Culture
The islands were named Spitsbergen, meaning pointed mountains by the first ever European visitor. Although mainly populated by Norwegian and Russian settlements, it’s only one thousand and three hundred kilometres from the North Pole – providing an ideal starting point for many arctic explorers. It has a rich industrial history of coal mining particularly in the main town of Longyearbyen, named after its most famous coal mining entrepreneur.
Between late November and the end of February there is 24 hour darkness because of its location, but visitors can enjoy short skidoo and sledging trips. It’s during midsummer you have the prime opportunity to enjoy the incredible scenery under a midnight sun. With its incredible mountains, Fjords and glaciers it’s the perfect place to partake in arctic voyages and sailing expeditions. For the more adventurous traveller, your ship-based voyage can be complimented by kayaking, snow shoe walking, and even polar diving to fully take in these amazing surroundings.
Spitsbergen is the only populated place in the world to have more Polar bears than people
The landscape is made up of six national parks, which protects the fragile and untouched environment. With 3,000 polar bears, Spitsbergen is the only populated place in the world to have more Polar bears than people. The best time to see the wildlife is from June to September, when all are busy feeding, breeding and making the best of the summer. Highlights include whales, seals, walrus, reindeer, arctic fox, together with millions of migratory seabirds.
Due to Spitsbergen’s northern location and clear remote skies, you have the rare opportunity to view the magical Northern Lights. The best chance to see them is during the polar night when it’s dark for 24 hours a day.
Where to Sleep
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Watch the Two Minute Travel Guide to Spitsbergen video